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By Michael Nique

Mobile Ideas & Startup Incubation in Dakar

There is a real sense that technology entrepreneurship is beginning to boom in this part of West Africa.

With approximately 34% of its population living on less than US$1.25/day, Senegal ranks 155 out of 187 countries in terms of poverty 1. Yet, with more than 44% of mobile market penetration (unique subscribers)2, Senegal is in the Top 10 of the most mature mobile markets in Africa, well above the continent’s 32% mobile penetration average 3.

Historically, Senegal has provided leadership in the continent and represents a hub of democracy and political stability in the West African region 4. However, one of its challenges is the high unemployment rate (49% in 2010)5 that especially impacts a young generation of students coming out of the local universities. As part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Senegalese government is now promoting entrepreneurship to create wealth and foster economic opportunities.

One of the engines for economic growth and job creation could be fuelled by a dynamic mobile market and strong ICT skills from a young generation of entrepreneurs. After a recent visit to the CTIC in Dakar, the local incubator for ICT and mobile technology entrepreneurs, there is a real sense that technology entrepreneurship is beginning to boom in this part of West Africa.

Leveraging the strong engineering programs from the local universities, the CTIC supports companies and project leaders in their creation, development and growth. Less than two years after its creation, CTIC currently supports 11 companies and had 24 startups in its 3 to 6 months acceleration program. Some of them are now expanding their activities in other West African countries. Supported by private and public sector partners (InfoDev, IFC, Sonatel, GIZ, Center for Development of the Enterprise (CDE), the Government of Senegal, etc.), the CTIC also fosters the regional ICT Entrepreneurship ecosystem through seminars, workshops, networking events and other events, like Startup Weekends.

At the recent DEMO Africa conference in Nairobi, showcasing 40 emerging African startups, Senegal was the only French-speaking country represented, with 3 companies presenting their solutions. These 3 companies were incubated at the CTIC, including agribusiness resource Mlouma.

Mlouma is a web and mobile service that allows farmers and agribusiness to connect and receive information about the purchase or sale of agricultural products through real-time market information. In a country prone to drought and where nearly 70% of the overall workforce in Senegal is engaged in the agricultural sector, initiatives such as Mlouma are key to empowering small-holder farmers and building resilience. As only 20% of the population has direct access to the internet, mobile phones are most of the time the only tools of empowerment for the rural farmers.

With key events such as Startup Weekends, TechCamp Dakar in August 2012–the first TechCamp to be hosted in Africa6 – and Apps4Africa held in Dakar in December 2012, Senegal is steadily becoming another major innovation hub in Africa for developers and technology entrepreneurs. Added to CTIC work, technologists can also count on the Bantalabs, supporting the developer’s community, and Jokkolabs, an “action tank” for social change, to provide support to local projects.

Capitalising on their strong program, the CTIC is currently looking to replicate its model and build partnerships with incubators from other African countries such as Mali, Ivory Coast, Niger and Gabon. Adding to the current local technology hubs, this is a positive step to foster innovation and further support the growth of technology entrepreneurship for the creation of commercially-viable businesses and socially-impactful projects.

Photo: Courtesy of CTIC

 


[1] United Nations Development Programme 2011- http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/

[2] Senegal has a total Market Penetration of 85% for total connections (unique subscribers own several SIM cards) – Wireless Intelligence 2012

[3] Source: Wireless Intelligence, as of September 2012 on Unique Mobile Subscribers

[5] Senegal National Statistic and Demographic Agency – Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie du Sénégal

[6] During a 3 day event in August 2012, technologists and agricultural-focused NGOs from across Senegal joined together to shared ideas and participates in hands-on learning around the subject of “mobile agriculture”

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